Ukraine Almost Pull Off A Shock Win

by on September 12, 2012
in World Cup 2014

Let’s not kid ourselves, that wasn’t anywhere near as good a performance as was expected

It’s all very well having low expectations, but I think it’s fair to say we were lucky to get away with a point last night. With other results going against us, England are now in second place in Group H on goal difference and it could have been worse. Without wanting to sound too alarmist, this group may come down to who scores the most goals against San Marino, in which case we may be lucky it’s our turn to play them next.

Of course, you could also argue that if Steven Gerrard had to be suspended for one game after picking up a stupid red card, San Marino would be the one most people would pick. As a kid in the early seventies I remember an FA crackdown on ‘the tackle from behind’ and although that would have been a decade or so before Gerrard was born, I’m a little bit surprised that he doesn’t know those tackles are illegal. As for Danny Welbeck’s attempt to win a penalty, that proved a couple of things: my eyesight is better than Andy Townsend’s and that Welbeck and Ashley Young have obviously been exchanging notes about diving in the penalty box.

It’ll be fascinating to see how Roy Hogdson reacts to the subtle change of circumstances. Four of the starting XI last night are over 30 and with neither of the youngest players looking particularly impressive last night it’s time to dust off the clichés about this team being ‘in transition’ or ‘a work in progress’…but you have to wonder if the current team will be anywhere near the finished article in two years time or whether some of the new faces will still be in contention if England qualify for the World Cup.

England have two further rolls of the dice before the end of the year, although you’d be hard pressed to find any value backing us to win the group or finish in the top two – you’d be better off taking a look at casino odds if you fancy a flutter – but England’s price to win the World Cup in Brazil began to drift after last night’s game finished. Not surprisingly, Brazil remain favourites.

Hodgson Already Under Scrutiny

So far so good: Roy Hodgson’s been in charge of England for a week and he’s not lost a game yet.

Rather than trying to jump onto the various bandwagons that were being dragged around in the wake of last weekend’s appointment, I thought it might be better to wait a week before giving a more considered opinion about the decision. One thing to clarify immediately: I won’t be making fun of the way the new manager talks.

Despite being at the cynical end of England fandom (I grew up in the Home Counties in the 1970s and my Dad was Welsh), I don’t have  any problems with Roy Hodgson at all.  In fact, there’s an argument to be made that he’s the latest of a long line of England coaches that goes all the way back to Walter Winterbottom (if you’re not sure who he was, try Wikipedia), through Sir Alf Ramsey (if you’re not sure who he was, you have the wrong site) and – more recently – Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson.

Hodgson’s appointment is something of a return to form for the FA. The key difference is that the new manager combines the old school values with knowledge and experience of managing outside the UK at both national and international level. That’s rare in English football: one of the drawbacks of having such an overinflated and overhyped competition such as the Premier League is that none of our top players go abroad any longer. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any players or coaches in France, Germany, Spain or Italy. Ironically enough – especially as Hodgson’s managerial career began in Sweden – I can think of a couple of reasonably successful British coaches in Scandinavia.

The appointment also seems to be a deliberate reaction against some of the novelty appointments that have been made over the past couple of decades. Capello, Eriksson, Hoddle and McClaren all shared a cosmopolitan profile with Hodgson, although the first two suffered from the apparently fatal malady of not being English, Hoddle was ‘a bit of a nutter’ and McClaren might have made a better England manager in ten years time.

Which brings me round to the last time the FA appointed a ‘fan favourite’. Kevin Keegan was an absolute disaster and there’s absolutely no evidence to show that Harry Redknapp wouldn’t have been the same. Strangely enough, Redknapp’s reliance on his bumpkin image to clear his  name in court earlier this year might have affected the perception of him by any prospective employers: his apparent inability to perform simple tasks might have helped Redknapp clear his name and endeared him to aficionados of ‘Carry On’ films or the works of Norman Wisdom (‘Strike a light, lads, we’ve only gorn an’ missed the coach to the stadium!’) , but won’t have given any of the blazers at the FA any confidence in his ability to manage the England team.

In fact, the only manager to have combined fan approval with the type of profile the FA seems to think is important was Terry Venables, who oversaw the most successful tournament campaign in the last two decades  – yes, sixteen years ago. As for some of the arguments that compared Redknapp to Brian Clough in so far as they were both who the ‘fans’ wanted for the job, it needs to be stressed repeatedly that Clough won the old League Championship as a manager when he was 38. If you want to compare Clough with anyone, try Jose Mourinho. Brash, outspoken, successful.

Back to the tournament at hand now: Hodgson has to prepare for a couple of friendlies in the next few weeks before Euro 2012 starts and although he’s guaranteed a place for Wayne Rooney in the squad that’s going to Eastern Europe, it’s the centre of defence that’s the biggest problem. Regardless of the fact that the forthcoming tournament could be the last one that both Rio Ferdinand and John Terry play in, there’s also the issue of Terry’s apparent inability to behave like an adult who is also a professional sportsman. The character defects of the Chelsea captain are both a.) glaringly obvious and b.) have a tendency to get him into trouble both on and off the pitch: basically he thinks he can get away with doing whatever he likes. Hodgson’s first job may have to tell Terry that he won’t be able to do that for England any longer: or possibly ever again.

I’ll be posting some more thoughts as the tournament approaches, but I must admit that I’m really intrigued to see how Roy Hodgson is going to do this summer. Although the ‘defeated in the quarter finals by the eventual winners’ scenario usually happens regardless of who the manager is, the rampant jingoism, crass newspaper headlines and pubs filled with ‘casual’ fans who have to be told which team is which may not be as prevalent as they might have been if Harry Redknapp had got the job. However, the sense of anger and disappointment if England fail badly in Poland and the Ukraine might be greater with Hodgson in charge rather than Redknapp: we’ll see.